Hands up for Haiti

Hands up for Haiti is one of many small NGO’s that have sprung up in Haiti over the last ten years (and particularly right after the earth quake). Started by several medical doctors who felt called to help the Haitian people, Hands Up has started to hone in on its niche here in northern Haiti: facilitating medical volunteer trips for US doctors, nurses and students. It’s always interesting to work with new organizations as they shape themselves and especially if that task is the daunting one of healing people in a nation notorious for poor public health. Here are a few things we’ve been learning and thinking about.

First of all Haiti is a classic case of development chaos. It’s certainly a place in need of transformation and its proximity to the US seems to only fuel the creation of NGOs of all shapes and sizes. We’ve heard Haitians call Port au Prince the world capital of NGOs. Here in northern Haiti were finding a huge patchwork of groups, often times working like lasers in a dark room… doing good work, but so focused that they seem to leave mere dots of light and lots of dim area. Groups like Hands up for Haiti seem to be aware of this problem and will hopefully lead to better integration and cooperation. It will be interesting to continue learning more about this as we travel south.

Lesson number two is that taking pictures of sick kids never gets easier. I personally feel awful each time we have to capture images of people in vulnerable moments of illness. Thus far we’ve shot in a small local clinic, a clinic in the giant slum of Shada and at a medical training session. The docs we’ve been traveling with report pretty lousy health in most of the patients they encounter. We saw lots of painful looking cases of pneumonia, fever and malnutrition. There was even one person who needed an operation immediately to avoid serious complications. How do you capture this experience? For us it’s been a difficult trade-off between respecting the Haitians we meet and doing what we can do to help support them. I’m thinking I might make up a little badge to wear around my neck wherever I travel to do video work.

Hello, I take pictures to try to help people. These pictures help raise money and sustain projects.

Every person in the world has the right not to be photographed. Please raise your hand if you don’t want your picture taken.

Would this work? Maybe it’s just a tough job that requires us keep in mind that we do this not to be voyeurs, but to change things. I’m not sure I know the answer, but I do know that when I heard later one of the babies I photographed would likely not make it (107 fever… so high the thermometer couldn’t read accurately), I knew that we need to make these videos and pictures count.

PS. Many thanks to our friends at Hands up for Haiti. You made this leg of our journey a pleasure. The work you do is changing lives. And yes… I promise to start taking my B-12 supplement.


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